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Thinking Beyond ‘.com’ To Harness The Power Of Local

Dan Hill, Head of Dot London, spoke to the Brand Quarterly team about the power of local.

It is tempting to think of the dominance of online giants, such as Amazon, as evidence that local businesses are being squeezed out, but the growth of small businesses seems to contradict this assessment entirely. Research released by LinkedIn suggested that the number of entrepreneurs in the UK has increased by 6.4%. Recent research by the Local Data Company (LDC) and the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) found that more independent retailers opened than closed in 2016.

Encouraging those small businesses to go online helps to create virtual communities of people with similar interests and attitudes. Whether it’s a local pub, an artisan baker or a gift shop, digital transformation allows a business to have a different level of accessability to their local customers. Going online offers a lot of opportunities for smaller local businesses, and can allow them to communicate more with their community, such as updates on stock or opening times, but also gives them the freedom to reach beyond their normal geographic boundaries. For example, a gift shop based in Putney can now create a virtual shop-front and not only rely on local trade, but also online orders from around the country, giving them an additional source of revenue.

Given that there’s a trend towards digital transformation, is there a necessity for businesses to position themselves as local?

GeoTLDs Provide A Credible Alternative

GeoTLDs (Geographic top-level domains) are domain names correlated to geographic locations. Formerly limited to countries (for example ‘.co.uk’), GeoTLDs have grown in both usage and diversity to reflect regions and even cities. Three of the largest city domains include ‘.london’, ‘.nyc’, and ‘.tokyo’. Other cities that have joined the GeoTLD club include Boston, Cologne and Paris.

The launch of the first city domains in 2014 proved timely as Google’s Pigeon algorithm increased the effectiveness of local search queries. The GeoTLD cues search engines that content is relevant to specific cities, which would prove useful for a business looking for customers within the same city.

There’s also a slightly less technical reason to adopt a GeoTLD. In an age where web addresses are becoming increasingly synonymous with business names, the GeoTLDs provide instant information about a brand and its location. It makes immediate sense for businesses, such as fashion brands, where locations are sometimes included in their brand name, or services, like estate agents, where their business is focusing solely on customers based in a specific city.

What’s In A Name?

Why choose a GeoTLD over the more commonly used ‘.com’? There’s no denying that ‘.com’ can have the global appeal, and is widely recognised, but if you’re looking to associate yourself with a city or tell your customers where you’re based to help build brand loyalty, then a GeoTLD could be a better option.

Even though some of the key names such as ‘.nyc’, ‘.london’ and ‘.tokyo’ launched in 2014, the idea of having a city name as your domain is still new, so registries are making efforts to educate through business community involvement. New York’s ‘.nyc’ fosters a community spirit amongst  businesses using the domain name by hosting regular networking meetups and recently organised a ‘Best of the Boroughs’ competition where the public voted for the best ‘.nyc’ business in their area.

Likewise, we have been working hard over the last few years to establish a relationship with London’s thriving small business community, which has included hosting the ‘Dot London Small Business Awards’, holding free digital marketing workshops; and actively showcasing businesses using ‘.london’ domain names through case studies and testimonial videos.

We are set to continue our drive to raise awareness of our brand and help empower those businesses using ‘.london’ domain names by creating an interactive map that pin-points where ‘.london’ businesses are based around the city, creating a platform for showcasing and networking. This will be supported by more marketing-based workshops and meet-ups to help show the benefits of having a city-based domain name.

Is It Worth Making The Change?

Bob Knorpp of marketing podcast Beancast believes that local businesses should only adopt a geographical domain name if “it is intrinsic to their marketing that they establish they are a local business.” But while a local domain can appeal to local loyalties, companies with a more global appeal have been quick to adopt them too.

The ‘.london’ domain has been seized upon by larger organisations such as Prescott and Conran’s Albion café group; luxury health clubs, Third Space; and some global businesses that work in the capital, such as Publicis London.

The Local Angle

The assumption that shopping online is the local loyalties would be eroded, but there’s certainly evidence to show that the opposite is often true. A survey that we commissioned found that 75% of Londoners said they would go out of their way to support a local business. On the flip side, the same survey found that 73% of those interviewed would browse for items instore before buying online, so there is a risk of curious shoppers looking for inspiration in local shops but then buying from an online alternative for maybe a lower price. This again is a good reason why businesses should have some online presence with good content, so that they can snare those curious cyber-browsers.

Simeon Bird of online-based London clothing brand Fundamentals, sees no contradiction in his local vs global loyalties. “London is an internationally recognised city. We work out of London and have our clothes made right here in London. It just makes sense to make the most of that and to be part of the Dot London community.”